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Paintings › View › Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod 1887   
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  bullet  1887 . Oil on canvas
  bullet  Forbes Magazine Collection
Actual Size (W x H): 180cm x 259cm [ 70.92" x 102.05" ]
John William Waterhouse: Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod - 1887 John William Waterhouse: Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod - 1887

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Herod was an Idumaenean, from the Land of Edom, a desert region of nomads to the south of Judaea. His father was Antipater, who became a trusted procurator of Judaea, and his mother was Kupros, a woman of Arab descent. At that time the King of Judaea was Hyrcanus II. He was from the family of Hasmoneans, a popular nationalist, Jewish family who had been priests and Kings of the area from about the second century BC. Antipater was, in his new position and friendship with King Hyrcanus II able to secure good jobs for his sons. One of them, Phasael was made prefect of Jerusalem and the other son, Herod, was given the job of military prefect of Galilee. Herod, now moving in the royal circles, caught the eye of Mariamne, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus II and, after divorcing his wife Doris, they became engaged to be married. However, in 40 BC things took a turn for the worse as the Parthians invaded the area and set up Antigonus, another Hasmonaean, as King. As Jerusalem fell, Herod escaped with his family but Hyrcanus and Phasael were captured. After making sure that his family were safe he set off for Rome where he persuaded the Roman senate to give him the title, 'King of the Jews', and to pledge himself to return and take Judaea back under Roman allegiance. He returned to the Palestine region and starting from Galilee he slowly took control of his kingdom. In just three years he succeeded in capturing Antigonus, and with his new bride Mariamne, the grandaughter of Hyrcanus, he began to rule his kingdom.

King Herod began to rebuild the temple. He established new towns and harbours and brought neighbouring regions into his own kingdom and in alliance to Rome. However, this apparently successful story of how a member of an Idumaenean nomadic family became the ruler of a kingdom was unfortunately marred by Herod's chronic insecurity. This was partly because the Jews did not like him because he was an Idumaenean. Although he practised Judaism, it was not thought that he gave it much priority. In modern terms he was a multi-faith enthusiast, giving credence to other religious ideas which in Jewish eyes diluted his conviction to the faith . Also against him was his overthrowing of Antigonus from the popular Hasmonean family. He tried to overcome this by marrying Mariamne, King Hyrcanus II's grandaughter, and therefore a Hasmonean princess. He also curried favour with the people by placing Hasmoneans in important positions in his court. This had the affect of making people tolerate his kingship but it also made him feel under even more threat from the very people he had promoted. and led to increasing insecurity. Having reached the heights of Kingship, he never felt totally secure and he saw conspiracy and plotting from every quarter.

First to be killed on his orders was his brother-in-law and high priest, Aristobulus. While answering the charge of his murder in Egypt he gave the order to his uncle Joseph that if he should die, then his wife and her mother were to be executed. Herod managed to talk his way out of the murder charge, but on his return to Jerusalem found that his wife had learned his arrangement with Joseph. Needless to say Mariamne was none too pleased to hear of this arrangement! Herod began to wonder why Joseph had told Mariamne, and came to the wrong conclusion they were having an affair. In fact Joseph had told her of the plan in order to demonstrate Herod's love for her. However, despite the total lack of evidence Joseph was executed. Herod was very much in love with Mariamne, but with jealous accusations from other wives and Mariamne's increasing coldness towards him, he eventually persuaded himself to have her executed too. He regretted it straight away and became filled with guilt, making himself mentally and physically ill. Thinking that Herod was about to die, Alexandra, Mariamne's mother made arrangements to put Herod's children by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus, on the throne. She too was then executed for her presumption! Herod had 10 wives altogether and towards the end of Herod's life, Antipater, the eldest son by his first wife began to realise that he was not favoured to take over from his father. He was deeply jealous of the sons of Mariamne, and in order to discredit them he accused his two step brothers of treachery and, believing him, Herod had them both executed too. Antipater must have thought he had got away with it, but just before Herod died, Antipater was executed as well, accused of trying to accelerate his death. Signing Antipater's death warrant, Augustus Caesar remarked that he would rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son!

Just before his death, Herod, realising that when he died there would be no great mourning, sent letters to the principle heads of every family in Judaism demanding their presence on pain of death. Having got them to Jerusalem, Herod ordered them to be locked up in the horse-racing ground. He then gave the orders to his sister that upon his death they were all to be executed. Thus making sure that the whole nation would mourn when he died, albeit not for him. Fortunately, when Herod died, his sister released the imprisoned Jews and allowed them to return home. Herod died 37 years after being declared 'King of the Jews', leaving four sons, to whom was given one quarter of his kingdom each. - Phil Greetham's Page



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